It's almost over. No, it is over. With just one week left in baseball's regular season, the Tampa Bay Rays have clinched the championship of the Natural League. In recognition of the feat, The Naturalist's Notebook will give the first Rays fan who enters the shop today a free pair of black-rimmed glasses so he or she can look like the team's brainy, mountain-bike-riding manager, Joe Maddon.
For those of you who are new to the Notebook, the Natural League is our own invention. It is made up of the nine major league teams whose nicknames are nature-based, like the Rays, Tigers, Marlins and Rockies. We keep standings of the teams based on their major league records. We also keep track of environmental news about the actual animals (or geological features) for which the teams are named.
Last year the Natural League race came down to the final day of the season, on which the Colorado Rockies edged the St. Louis Cardinals for the title. This year the only drama left is whether the plummeting Arizona Diamondbacks will sink below the Baltimore Orioles and claim last place. How bad have the Orioles been this season? If they played the Rays for 30 straight games and won every game, they would still be behind Tampa Bay in the standings.
Alas, because the Orioles, Diamondbacks and Cubs have been so horrible, The Natural League teams have a combined losing record this season against the 21 major league teams that are named for items of clothing, Native Americans, pedestrians dodging trolley cars and other human-linked phenomena.
In case you're wondering, we have also launched the Natural Football League. Going into this weekend the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears were tied for first place with 2-0 records. There are 14 teams in the Natural Football League. That number does not include the San Diego Chargers, whom I deemed ineligible. Research indicates that they were named not after the lightning bolts displayed on their helmets but after their fans' eagerness to yell "charge!"
As for the baseball eligibility question that keeps coming up in these Red Sox-obsessed parts, a number of Boston fans have said that their team should be included in the Natural League next year on the grounds that red socks can be made from natural fabrics such as cotton or wool. I find that, as sock-makers might put it, a stretch, but I am open to lobbying from those of you who care deeply about these things.